Overload: Your Brain on Clutter
When your brain sees, it’s doing more than just catching the light entering your eyes. Your brain has to interpret that light, which is why so many optical illusions work. Your brain doesn’t just reconstruct what your eyes capture, it also tries to make sense of what you see. Understood this way, it’s no wonder clutter distracts us so much.
Even when you’re focused on a task, clutter around you constantly engages your brain and diminishes the attention you can pay to the task at hand. This can lead to lower productivity and higher frustration.
In short, an organized, uncluttered environment encourages focus and serenity.
Keeping your environment organized means cleaning messes as they happen, or at least not letting your home get too messy before you clean. When you put off straightening up you may think you’re just saving the work for later, but you’re also increasing your stress between now and then. If you clean as you go, over time you’ll do the same amount of cleaning, but carry around less stress. You’ll make better decisions about food, activities, and work.
Clear Your Dining Room Table
The dining room table is so inviting. It’s easy to set one thing there, then another, and another, until dinner time rolls around and you have a big mess on your hands, especially if everyone in the house is doing the same thing. And every time you walk by it, the visual cacophony draws your attention.
Keep the table clear and put everything where it belongs. You might have to step into another room to do so, but it’s worth it.
To make the dining table attractive but not overwhelming, keep one decoration, such as a potted plant or flowers in a vase, and nothing else, in the middle of the table.
Everything in Its Place
There’s a popular phrase, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Your short-term goal in decluttering should be keeping the items that are important to you and letting go of the rest. Your long-term goal should be keeping your house well-maintained and with little clutter. Everything in its place, then, makes a great mid-term goal, but don’t let that stop you from working on it from the start.
The phrase means exactly what it says. Have a place for your keys, smartphone, clothes, magazines, books, and so on. Put them away when you’re done using them.
There are two major upshots to this. First, just having things where they belong reduces clutter, since those things aren’t cluttering up other spaces. Second, you will no longer have to go searching for your keys or other items, because you always know where they are.
Of course, you will have to get into the habit of putting things where they go, so be patient with yourself. And try not to get hyper-organized, with, say, one drawer for red shirts and another for blue. As a rule of thumb, it should take three minutes or less to find any item you need in your home.
Keep an Exit Drawer
Have one drawer where you keep all the things you need to have when going out: your keys, smartphone, purse or wallet, and so on. You’ll get into the habit of looking there first before you leave. Once you get into the habit of using it, everything you need before you head to work or play will be waiting for you.
Donate an Item a Day
When you first start decluttering, challenge yourself to find at least one item a day you can donate, sell, or give away as a gift. This will challenge you to really think about what is important for you to keep and why, and what you should let go.
Simplify with Technology
We’ve been using computers at home and at work for several decades now and it’s still common for us to have too many paper records. What happened to the paperless office?
Well, today, that dream is actually within reach for both businesses and homes. If you have papers and forms with important information, scan them and keep digital copies with a cloud service, like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft’s OneDrive. You can do the same for old photographs.
If you don’t need the physical copies at all, shred and recycle the paper. If you do need to keep paper records and print photographs, sort them into file boxes and put them in your self-storage locker or valet storage. Many valet storage businesses charge their cheapest prices for file boxes.
The same idea works great for manuals. Chances are, most new technology you buy comes with a manual or two, which can add clutter or start filling up a spare drawer. These days you can find most manuals online. Simply download those you need and store them in the cloud.
Cycle Out Your Kids’ Old Toys
This is a great way to keep your kids’ rooms uncluttered and encourage generosity. You’ll have to decide if this makes sense for your family, of course. As the gift-giving holiday season approaches, have your children pick out, say, five toys or toy sets that they no longer play with. Together, donate the ones in good shape to children in need. With some charities, you may actually see who is getting the gift. Then, get your child new toys for the holiday. This could also work for when a new console game system is coming out; your child could donate the old one and then get a new one.
A Final Tip for Parents
You will want to get your kids on board with keeping up your home. Talk to them about what will make that easier for them. A child who loves sports might not want to put away his shoes by the door, but putting a shelf for shoes decorated with pictures of baseballs and basketballs might attract his attention and get him to put them away. A child who loves books might not want to sort them by author, but by genre.
Keeping a place uncluttered takes work. When you clean and organize as you go, you’ll keep your home as comfortable as possible. By living in a simplified, uncluttered home, you’ll reduce stress and improve your mental and physical health.